ATLANTA – Smartphones and tablets continue to accompany diners at foodservice establishments, according to research by the National Restaurant Association.

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New research released during the NRA's Restaurant Innovation Summit revealed overall technology use in restaurants is on the rise. Thirty-two percent of consumers surveyed said they would use a smartphone app to pay their check instead of using cash, credit or debit cards if the option was offered
Also, a majority of consumers said they use their smartphones for several restaurant-related tasks at least a few times per year. For example, smartphone owners will research basic information about a restaurant, view menus, read online reviews, use rewards and special deals, and order takeout or delivery on restaurant-branded apps. Half of respondents also said they look up nutrition information on their devices several times per year, and one-quarter use their phones to pay for meals at that frequency.

"While overall usage of restaurant technology options is still more common among diners in the Millennial generation compared with Baby Boomers, the age gap generally levels out when it comes to frequent users," said Hudson Riehle, senior vice president of research. "As restaurants integrate more customer-facing technology, usage among consumers is growing. When done right, it can help a restaurant's productivity and the customer experience."

Additionally, among consumers who use tech options at least once per week, the proportional spread across age groups shrunk from the much wider gaps shown for overall and occasional use.

The NRA survey found that 15 percent of all adults use their smartphone to look up nutrition information at least once per week: 14 percent among consumers in the 18-34 age group, and 12 percent among those 65 and older. Similarly, 11 percent of all adults use their smartphone to use rewards or special deals at least once per week: 11 percent among consumers in the 18-34 age group, and 12 percent among those 65 and older.

But the research also showed that for some consumers, technology can't compare to the human touch. Among consumers who said they are not using technology options more often, half said they prefer dealing with people. Surprisingly, 61 percent of 18-34-year-olds gave this as a reason, while only 42 percent of those 65 and older agreed.

"It's important to note that a substantial number of consumers say they still prefer to deal with restaurant staff, underscoring that this is still an industry of hospitality where the human factor will always be paramount," Riehle said.